Saturday, December 31, 2011

First Quarter Goals 2012

This year I have a couple of more general goals. In particular, I feel as though I am starting to find my groove again -- which was lost due to both good and bad life events.

This year is my Mind Like Water year.

"Mind Like Water" is a zen concept. Water keeps its equilibrium all the time. As my dad used to say, it seeks its own level, and then stops. Forces can act on it, and it responds -- splashing, waves -- but when the outside force acting on it stops, the water flows back into place and is calm again.

In other words, water is focused on its business, and though you can distract it, it always goes right back to its business. A compass might be another good metaphor. So for me, this year is about focus.

And my focus is on hitting 2014 with at least two more Mick and Casey books, and two more Starling and Marquette books, plus a few miscellaneous other things.

So for all of 2012, the prime directive is to write Devil In A Blue Bustle, and The Man Who Stepped Up. The secondary goals are to write a novelization of a tricky screenplay, and publish an old trunk novel (YA-ish Fantasy, which I'll talk about later), and write a few shorter things, especially for Mick and Casey. I figure a quarter of that will be....

A Round Of Words in 80 Days, 2012, First Round:

Finished draft of Devil In a Blue Bustle. This was supposed to be a short story, the a novelette, and somewhere about 20,000 words I gave up on it because there wasn't a market to sell it to.

Now I think it will be a good short novel, 40 or 50k. Here's a concept for the cover. (I think it's going to be a transition to a new style.) And the blurb will go something like this:

A mysterious woman in blue attempts to hire Mick and Casey to fake a murder of her husband, so the husband can escape his debts. When the woman and her husband are killed for real, Mick and Casey are the only hope of the poor dumb gunman who took the job.

This might take the whole round to "ripen" but it shouldn't take up all the actual effort, so I will also be brainstorming and outlining other works. (Particularly The Man Who Stepped Up.)

As before, the preliminary measure is going to be minutes:

6500 minutes total by March 22.

That will be divided up into 600 minute weeks (with an assumed week off somewhere in the middle). Or about 90 minutes a day average.

Prep Work

I seem to have completely lost the extensive post I wrote about this. So I will talk more about it later. But one of the big efforts I'm going to make is tweaking my working method. In particular this blog post by Rachel Aaron inspired me to think about formalizing some of my prep work.

I already do nearly all of what she proposes, but just in a natural, half-assed sort of way. I'm not aiming to get to 10,000 words a day or anything, just looking for a baseline with these kinds of habits, which I know work well for me. I just don't know how well.

So tomorrow, in New Year's Day, I will start at Day 0, by gathering my notes and getting the outlines in order.


My goal for the time being is to do two posts per week in addition to the update posts on Sunday and Wednesday. If my productivity efforts pay off, I might do more, but since I'm also going to do a blog tour in February, I really want to keep my eyes on the prize this year. In the Mind Like Water pond, blogging is a kid throwing pebbles.

So... I'm hoping for Tuesdays and Thursdays as my other posting days. We'll see how that goes. In the meantime....

See you in the funny papers.

The Book Is Up

After a LOT more trouble than I had expected prepping it all, I finally have the book up at Amazon and at Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Smashwords. (It will trickle into other vendors in the coming days.)

I will do a more formal announcement on Monday or Tuesday, and since I'm doing the "higher price experiment" I will have a Smashwords coupon for my loyal followers.

Later tonight I'll post some some goals (and probably tomorrow two -- I have drafts of a bunch of posts I was going to do this week).

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Look Back At The Book and The Rewriting Issue

Robert Heinlein put a loophole in his "Don't Rewrite" rule by adding the phrase "except to editorial order." This is an exceptionally large loophole for self-publishers because the writer is the editor.

So you have to ask yourself, who's asking for the rewrite -- you as writer, or you as editor -- and do they have a good reason or not?

I bring this up because Dean Wesley Smith started a new series about setting goals the other day (great post -- read the comments too) and one of the things he pointed out was that one reason people go into that destructive endless rewrite cycle is fear. (Fear is a bad reason to do anything.)

This seemed like a good jumping off point for a look back at the book I just finished -- a book I did more rewriting than usual on, but also a book which is done.

"...which is done" has a special meaning here.

What it means is revisions are closed. The ship has sailed. It's after hours and no new visions will happen on this story. It's a done deal. I may do some line editing as I proof it (I always do) but that will be purely spontaneous, because it is what it is.

And that, imho, is what Heinlein's Rule 3 is really all about -- it's a reiteration of Rule 2 "You must finish what you start."

When you are your own editor, you need to be a hard-nosed business person who wants to get that dang story out there. You've got to know when to stick a fork in it. You've got to set deadlines for that creative fuss-budget who works for you.

If you rewrite from fear, you are doing the opposite. You're using the mean boss inside you to demand more work and waste your time. Fire that boss. Hire the one that sets limits instead.

When I rewrite, it's for me. I have a very strong vision of what I am going for, and yes, I do rewrite to meet that vision. (And yes, if the boss tries to stop me from that rewrite before I'm ready, I tell him to go suck an egg -- but I do recognize that is his job. His job isn't to tell me what to write, or whether it's good or not. His job is to say "hurry up!")

When you are younger and just learning your craft, your vision will be more malleable. You second guess yourself, and you're not sure about anything. This leads to what DWS calls "writing by committee." You let critique partners and book doctors and editors co-write the darn thing with you. And instead of having the best of all of the above, you end up with the average of all of the above. Just plain bland.

(I would stop to note that, for all everyone snarks about Hollywood and the way it produces stories by committee, we should all remember that Casablanca was written by committee. So sometimes the best of all the parts do make a brilliant whole.)

Ahem, where was I? ....I rewrite for me, right.

When I look back at the process I went through on The Man Who Did Too Much, you could call a lot of what I did "revision," but I don't see it that way. I see it as creation.

I've mentioned before about my method of layering in scenes and story, like a painting. Or like a movie. A movie is not done when all the shots are in the can. It still has to be assembled, and the transitions marked in and efx added, and sound (which is a multi-layered effort in itself).

I hope I'm not ruining your enjoyment with the following revelation, but take a look at this two minute clip of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The voices you hear are theirs and probably (though not necessarily) the sounds which were actually made by their mouths at the time the shots were taken. And I'm sure you know that there wasn't an orchestra playing in the room as they danced either. A recording was being played as they danced, but we aren't hearing the sound of a record being played in the studio. Because the sound on that would suck. No we're hearing the sound of the actual orchestra, edited in later to match the steps.

Furthermore, those tapping sounds you hear? Not Fred's or Ginger's feet (or at least not at the time they were filming.). All the tapping and shushing were sounds made by the foley artist, who danced on a box in a sound booth afterwards while watching the shots being screened.

It isn't that Fred and Ginger's feet didn't make such sounds during filming, it's just that capturing the sound effectively is tricky, and sound is so very important to tap dancing.

So even though those tracks were recorded separately from the production of the scene -- the orchestra on its studio, and the foley artist in a booth -- these are essential parts of the story. They are necessary for the creation to be fully realized.

Laying in the soundtrack is not revision, it's creation.

Now, fiction is different from film -- film is a logistical nightmare even at its simplest level -- but even so, it's an apt metaphor for what goes on in my head in writing. Just as a live sound recording can't effectively capture the sound of the voices and the orchestra and the tapping all at once, my attention span can't always deal with all I want to deal with in one pass at a scene.

So yes, I do "revise" up to the point of finishing the scene. This particular book was like a musical, with lots of complications on the technical end.

Beware The Siren Call of Doom

However that was all done to meet the vision. The thing I never do is change the vision itself out of fear that others won't like it as much as I do, or it's not "good enough" or it's too silly or embarrassing or stupid. As soon as you start down that path, you're lost. That's the Siren Call of Doom.

And that brings me to the rewrites I didn't do.

I said above that this story is done. Not because I could think of no way to make it better, but because I declared it done.

Let's just pretend I did not have the sense (or courage) to declare it done.

In the writing of this book, I discovered something: this series is not about Karla, it's about George. Furthermore, the genre model I thought I was going for isn't really suited for the characters. I thought this was going one of those cozy madcap series where each story starts with Karla getting into trouble and calling on George to help out. Silly me. Karla is not a meddler. George is the obsessive compulsive hero who can't resist "helping" people whether they want it or not. Karla is... Nero Wolfe. A kind of zany Gracie Allen sort of Nero Wolfe, but still a person who would prefer to stay in her house and mind her own business. (Unless you want a movie recommendation.)

So if I were the "it's not done until it's perfect" sort of person, or if I were the sort of person to listen to publishing gurus, I'd be frantic right now, and put off the publication of this book for another year, so I could tear the plot apart and make it fit the new model.

And you know what? It might well be a better book if I did that... except for three things.

1.) It wouldn't be THIS book. And my motivation for writing this book is to write THIS book.

2.) That direction I discovered is where I want to end up. Why would I ever want to start there? You don't get places by rearranging the furniture where you are. You get there by moving.

3.) The first book in the series is not going to be the best book in a series. (At least it had better not be.)

That last one is the one I think most young writers (and a lot of modern agents and publishers) miss. All the great series -- the ones that last for twenty or thirty books or more -- develop over time. The first book is never the best book, and certainly not the most successful. Even those series which seem very formulaic often started differently: The first ten Perry Masons, for instance, didn't involve much lawyering. And even though they are different from later books, they are still fun to read.

Here's the kicker: most readers of any successful series did not start that series by reading the first book. MOST of the readers will come after the series is established.

And because modern traditional publishing doesn't recognize that fact, we don't have as many successful series as we once did -- because we never get to the sixth or seventh or twentieth book which draws those readers into the series.

When seen from that perspective, you have to realize that the job of the first book -- for most readers -- is very different from what we are led to expect. In traditional publishing, the first book is everything -- it's make or break. With indie publishing, not so much.

With indie publishing, we can publish the way books used to be published. We can let things sleep. The first book rather than being the lure to bring readers in, is more of a back story. It's there to fill in, to bring the reader up to speed. It's there to just be an interesting book in and of itself.

Your first book is not going to be your last book. But every time you stop to revise a book, that's another book you won't write at the end of your life -- when you're a much better writer.

So... if I were to decide to tear this book apart to make it a perfect whiz-bang kick off for the series: not only would I cause the readers to miss out on the journey to get there, more than likely I will rob them of a later, better, more satisfying book.

I'll wrap up with a thought about fear.

I have one writing fear, and it only gets worse as I get older: I am afraid that I'll never get the stories in my head written down an released into the world.

If you let fears prevent you from finishing your work when you're young -- whether it is fear of failure or embarrassment or what-have-you -- you WILL have my fear when you get old. Time is a precious thing. Don't waste it worrying about what anyone else thinks.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, December 26, 2011

One Frazzled Christmas

I had some great things I was going to post today (and every day of break) but I ended up rushing a friend to the ER, and I just got home. I think the soonest I'll get to it is Tuesday now.

This has been one frazzled Christmas. The school decided this would be a great time to be stingy with the break between semesters, so everybody was exhausted coming into this weekend. On Christmas Eve, we usually have what I call The Culinary Indulgence Fest, which is a hog-wild potluck. Everybody was too frazzled to do much -- but we had a plenty nice dinner anyway. However, approximately 5 minutes before I was to head over to the party I realized... I had forgotten to wrap presents.

I discovered that it is actually possible to wrap 8-9 presents in 15 minutes flat. At least if the cats are too intimidated by your tizzy to "help."

Also, I am a woman of a certain age where hormones are doing whacky things, so I had something like a silent migraine going on today. Not painful, but fuzz headed. It felt rather like a large squid was wrapped tightly around my brain, and also covering my eyes and plugging my ears.

Oh, and I have a cat helping me type right now.

And that's why you're not getting a blog post tonight or tomorrow.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, December 23, 2011

ROW80 Finale - And a New Book Published!

There! The end of the last day of the last round of A Round Of Words In Eighty Days for 2011.

I finished and edited a novel, The Man Who Did Too Much, which should see light at an ebook at least by New Year's Day. (The paper version will probably not be available until Chinese New Year, on January 22.) Here's the blurb page for that book.

In the meantime, I published another set of short stories tonight. Amazon is processing it, but Smashwords has it up and live. It will be a while before it trickles in to the other book stores, but does that matter? NO!

Because Smashwords has every format you could want, and further more, it's being offered there for FREE FREE FREE!

Here's the cover! And the blurb!

5 Twists

These five flash stories from the Daring Novelist blog each have a twist. Some are hard-boiled, others light and fluffy. The stories include:

  • "Burning Bridges" A hard-boiled woman must guide a young bimbo in trouble.
  • "Balancing Act" A klutzy woman, a charming man and a the theft of a jewel. The question is whether the fellow was just a bit too charming....
  • "Deadmen Don't Eat Fruitcake" It's a Noir Christmas when tough guys get their stolen jewels mixed up with fruitcake and a tough old lady.
  • "Power Is Greater Than Love" A dictator knows only power, a simple woman knows only love. Which is stronger?
  • "The Unexpurgated Story of the Baby Shoes Which Were Sold Unused" The story behind Hemingway's famous six word story: "For sale, baby shoes. Never used" may be more complicated than he expected, as an upright Victorian spinster explains to a newspaperman.

This collection is approximately 8500 words long.

In the meantime....

I had a wonderful day brainstorming some issues on Devil In A Blue Bustle, and I think this could very well be a novel, not just a long novella. That book will be the focus of the next dare -- which I will again run through ROW80.

Throughout next week, I'll be musing on various topics, past and present and future. The posts will appear Boxing Day morning. So have a happy holiday, and to send you off, I give you Beeker and Ode To Joy:

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

ROW80 Update - two days to go!

I stopped keeping track of time for this last leg of the challenge. I long beat my goals, and I'm tired. (The end of the semester is tough.) And I'm doing good work.

On Sunday and Monday I got the last run-through on the book done and sent it off to beta readers (wait, I think I have one more person to send it to...) I'll do one more proofing run after I get the feedback.

I did not get 5 Twists fully formatted and uploaded yet. I spent a little time playing with html, and creating a perfect CLEAN template. However, I discovered that, contrary to popular belief, Word does not do a clean job of turning html into a Word doc, so I need to continue using Word for the original document.

I really seriously can't wait until Smashwords accepts html.

Upload day, I think , will be Thursday. I have to work Wednesday, and I want to get my blurbs and author note and all that right. So I'll post that book announcement on Friday.

Christmas is the deadline for feedback from beta readers on The Man Who Did Too Much. I won't be able to get the paper book laid out before New Years, but the ebook should be ready sometime next week. (That was one of the reasons I was experimenting with my workflow for 5 Twists -- in case I wanted to upgrade my prep methods on Man Who.)

Movies Watched

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (WB, 2011) This isn't a classic, so it doesn't count, but it was beautifully done. It lives up completely to the first Robert Downey Jr. Holmes. It's still intelligent, yet nicely silly. And it features Stephen Fry as Mycroft!

This is the very first time I have ever been impressed with a depiction of Moriarty. (Whenever I hear a Holmes flick features Moriarty, I always prepare myself for disappointment, and I've, um, never been disappointed in my expectations of disappointment before.) Jared Harris does a fine job, but he was also given a lot to work with in the script. And the movie features an incredible climactic confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty at the end. Even though it had to be an action scene, they managed to make it a full battle of high intellect, too.

The Lady Vanishes (Gainsborough Pictures, 1938) I've been thinking about meticulous preparation before production on writing, and that made me think of Alfred Hitchcock. I will be writing more about Hitch and about this flick soon. (In particular a scene with some brandy glasses near the end.) The Lady Vanishes is probably the height of Hitchcock's British career, made only two years before coming to the U.S. to make Rebecca. It's light and silly and cheery, and yet full of suspense, and packed with so much irony it might require chelation therapy for excess heavy metals.

The story is an old trope, and the best ever done with this particular formula: a young woman meets an old lady on a train. The old lady vanishes, and the young woman can't get anybody to believe she ever existed. But unlike so many imitations which beat the premise to death and get boring before The Truth is finally revealed in a startling twist (much too late), this one keeps the premise in check. It's something that drives the action, and allows us to see continuing vignettes of all the little dramas, all the characters on the train.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Deadmen Don't Eat Fruitcake - a Holiday Noir Story

Here is a short Noir story for the holidays. Like all Noir, it's a little dark, (though it's in the lighter end of the Noir spectrum). Call it counter programming....

Deadmen Don't Eat Fruitcake
by Camille LaGuire

IT WASN'T A dark night on account of the snow, which reflected the light of the two street lamps from every available surface, except the bloody patch under Tig Arbuckle. That is, under Tig's body. There wasn't anything left of Tig inside there. His life had leaked out faster than his blood, which stained the snow around him.

Phil stuck his gun back in his pocket and knelt down as Bud came running up.

"Geeze," said Bud, his breath puffing out in a wreath around his face. He paused as Phil pulled off his gloves in the freezing air and quickly searched the body. "He got the fruitcake?"

"No," said Phil, rising and heading back toward the car.

"It wasn't in the car, neither," said Bud, looking back and forth from Phil to the body.

"He must have left it with old lady," said Phil. Four hundred thousand dollars worth of hot jewels, and Tig had to hide them in a fruitcake. It made him want to spit, but the freezing air was too dry.


There was a police car outside the Arbuckle Bakery when they pulled to a stop across the street. They sat a moment and watched. A cop came out--a young woman huddled in her short thick jacket. She adjusted her belt, and paused to warm her hand over the small bag she carried, which steamed slightly in the frigid air. Then she got in the car and left. Just a customer. Phil considered.

"You know anything about the old lady?"

"Tig always said she was a right guy," said Bud.

"A what?" said Phil, turning to look at Bud. Bud shrugged and shrunk a little.

"That's what he said. She's like one of the guys. Tough. A regular wise guy, he said."

"A wise guy baking fruitcakes," said Phil with a sneer. He shoved open the door and got out.


The old lady was shoveling cookies off a sheet and onto a rack when Phil and Bud entered. She paused to look them over, but she didn't say anything.

"We're friends of Tig...," began Phil.

"I know." She kept shoveling the cookies. She put away the sheet and started on another one without looking up. "He was here a few minutes ago. You just missed him."

"We're gonna meet him later," said Phil with a reassuring smile. "We're just here for the fruitcake."

She turned to look more closely at them, and her eyes were sharp with suspicion, like a teacher. Phil was immune to that kind of look, but Bud's shoulders twitched. Bud chafed his hands and looked over his shoulder.

"What were the cops doing here?" he said. "You been robbed?"

She put the spatula down and came up to the counter, wiping her hands slowly.

"You know cops and donuts," she said.

"You don't sell donuts," said Phil.

"My niece happens to like cookies instead."

"Niece?" said Bud. Bud shuffled nervously and looked at Phil. Phil wasn't sweating.

"Yeah, my niece, Maggie," said the old lady. "She stopped by for a present for her boss...a fruitcake."

"We're here for fruitcake too," interrupted Phil. "Tig said you had one for him. Special for him. We're here to pick it up."

The old lady narrowed her eyes and looked them both over, then she leaned forward and set her hands on the counter.

"Yeah," she said slowly, like she'd just remembered something, "he did have one picked out. Stupid kid messed with the dough. Ruined it." She nodded to herself, and then jerked her thumb over her shoulder. "I threw it out."

"Where?" said Phil.

"Out back, in the dumpster." She watched while Phil considered. "If he wants another one, he has to wait. I gave the rest of the batch to my niece."

Phil headed for the door. Bud followed, grumbling.

"What's Tig doing with a cop in his family anyway?"

"Every family's got a black sheep," said the old lady. She came around the counter and followed him to the door. She turned the lock as he went out, and stood and watched.


The dumpster was full of cartons and garbage and dough, all blending into a sickening cement in the cold. Phil stood on his toes to look in, and he wrinkled his nose.

"That idiot," he said. "What did he hide the jewels in a fruitcake for anyway?" He reached in reluctantly to pull a couple cartons out. He poked at them with a stick, and then at the garbage still inside. No sign of a fruitcake, but maybe it had blended in to the rest. He tried to reach for some bags in the back, as Bud climbed up on the edge. But then Bud hesitated.

"Say, Phil," he said. "Your ma ever make fruitcake?"

"No," said Phil shortly.

"How long you think it takes to bake a fruitcake?"

"I don't know and I don't care." But he looked up at Bud anyway.

"Try an hour and a half," said Bud. "That's at least what it took my ma to bake it. And then it had to cool for a while."

Phil dropped the stick. "So if he dropped those jewels in the fruitcake dough...."

"They're still in the oven, or maybe just coming out now. They weren't in the batch she threw away or gave to the cop."

Phil was already headed back up to the street. Bud jumped down and scrambled after him. The lights at the front of the store were already off, and the sign said closed. Phil pounded on the glass, and then pulled the pistol out of his pocket and pounded the glass with the butt of the gun.

"Freakin' old ladies," he said. "Freaking Tig!"

"Hey, Phil, cool it," said Bud, looking around nervously.

Phil shoved him back and took aim at the glass of the door. It was shatter resistant, but not really bullet proof. Three shots cracked it up enough to break. He knocked the rest in with the butt, and reached in to turn the lock. Bud stayed back and craned his neck to keep watch. Phil didn't bother. He was gonna get that old lady. She was just like Tig. A cheat.

He yanked open the door and charged in.

He was met at the counter by a shotgun blast. Buddy, who had rushed in after, didn't have time to back pedal. The second barrel got him.


Flashing lights decorated the front of the bakery, as officers milled, and the CSI unit worked over the mess in the front room. In back, in the kitchen, a detective and two officers accepted slices of fruitcake from Granny Arbuckle.

"Granny," said one of the officers, the niece, Maggie. "Why don't you stay with Ma and me tonight?"

"No, no. I'll settle down better in my own home."

"Well, then, let me stay with you."

"No," said the old woman firmly. "I'll be fine."

"Let me do something!" said Maggie. "I feel awful. I saw them out there casing the place, and I didn't even notice."

"They're friends of Tig," said Granny, patting her on the arm. "You recognized them."

"Yeah, and that itself should have put me on alert."

"Eat your fruitcake, Maggie," said Granny, and then she waved a finger at the detective who was attempting to slip the uneaten bit of cake back on to the plate. "You too young man."

She turned back to the racks of slightly burned fruitcakes, and pulled a sheet from the big box of tin foil.

"You young people don't appreciate something good," she rattled on. She picked up a fruitcake and set it in the center of the foil. "I remember when I was a girl, I always thought it was a treasure. All those little colorful pieces. Like jewels...."

Maggie pointed at the cake in Granny's hands.

"Granny, that one's all messed up."

"That's all right...."

"You won't be open tomorrow, so there's no point in saving the good ones for customers. Take the best one home."

Granny stopped and looked down at the little misshapen cake and smiled at it.

"This is the best one, dear. Trust me, I know fruitcakes, and it may be ugly on the outside, but it's the best on the inside." She finished wrapping it in tin-foil. "A little jewel chest just for me."

This and several other short stories are now available in an ebook collection titled "5 Twists." Find it at Amazon, Smashwords and other fine ebook retailers!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

ROW80 Update - home stretch!

Golly, this thing ends this week, on Thursday.

Thursday Day 73 - 81 Minutes. I am definitely winding down. While I am doing work, my record keeping has dropped to nil. And I haven't been updating the sidebar at all. Maybe I'll do that when I post this post.

Although I did blog posting today, I decided that from here on in, I'm working on the final polish/rewrite. I've still got some beta reactions trickling in.

Friday Day 74 - 135 minutes. Portfolio Day at work. Very very busy, which left me very very tired. I didn't end up looking much at the student's work, but there seemed to be a decent turnout. I did a little blogging, and I caught up on my paper notes. I'm going to work on the read through tonight -- marking typos, at least, on my Kindle with the notes feature. Then I should be able to do serious work tomorrow. (Note, added in 50 minutes of read-thru editing.)

Saturday Day 75 - Uh, six hours? I have no idea. The counting thing only matters with longer term goals. Right now, I'm just working, because I wanna get this published. I'm really enjoying the read-through, too. (However, I'm getting to the end point where it is going to need more work.)

AND today I realized that the story I'm going to post on the blog here Monday makes for a nice collection of five short short stories to publish too. So by the next ROW80 update on Wednesday, I hope to have that short story collection uploaded.

The collection will be called "5 Twists" -- and all five are stories I've published here on the blog this year. Not all of them are mysteries, so I didn't think of putting them together until I realized they are all twist stories. It wasn't hard to knock out a pure typography cover. (A very nice one, although I needed a second font, and I didn't find one that really suited. But the one I found was close enough for a freebie/99 cent short collection, with sample chapter from new book.)

Now, off to get sleep, and then we'll have dim sum and watch Sherlock tomorrow. Then I'll finish this last run through on the book.

Movies Watched

Lady For A Day (Columbia, 1933). This old Frank Capra flick, based on a Damon Runyon story (and later remade into Pocket Full Of Miracles with Bette Davis) is very much a classic. I don't think there is a good physical copy extant of this. It's dark and scratchy -- but the only restoration I know of has a good sound track, and that particularly important when you have a story as full of snappy dialog as t his.

It was right around this period when American film was finally making a technological recovery from the problems caused by the shift to talkies. For several years before this, the camera had become static, and everything had to be carefully staged for the sake of the new sound systems. Film had temporarily lost all the visual innovation of the great silent directors -- but here we begin to see the return of multiple angles and good editing. Great use of close ups and different angles. (Too bad much of the remaining film is so dark. Watch it in a darkened room so you can see it all.)

The plot is something we haven't seen done with intelligence in a long time -- it became a long-standing TV sitcom trope and has been done to death. (A loveable but pathetic character has to fake high social status for a visiting relative and dignitaries.) However it's fresh and funny and poignant here. Capra, as always, plays UP to the audience. And the performances, by master character actors, are top notch.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Update On The Pricing Experiment


The 99 cent price experiment didn't do much. Sales had been in a slump, and they returned to their normal range... which may have been due to the sale or not. Especially since I did do some advertising on Project Wonderful. (These ads did not mention the price.) I did get a recognizable bump of three or four sales at the very beginning and end of the experiment.

So my conclusion is that 99 cents as a price point doesn't really do anything by itself. It only helps if you are actively seeking the 99 cent audience -- but since I didn't do that, you can't prove that by me. I also assume it may work if you have an established audience, and those with tighter budgets are already actively waiting for a sale. I do that myself: This very weekend I sent emails to friends about a favorite author who had a backlist title go on sale.

(Oh, and there were NO sales of Anna The Great. Only Have Gun, Will Play.)

Now on to the higher price experiment.

I raised my price everywhere to 6.99 just before I lowered the price at Amazon to 99 cents. (I had some hope that they'd show 6.99 as the list price and the discount as 99 cents -- but no such luck. They did not list it as a discount at all. They only do that when you raise a price, not lower it.)

I have already seen indications that the higher price hasn't hurt my sales at Barnes and Noble -- and may have even helped. The ranking on Have Gun, Will Play rose after I raised the price. It sells very slowly there -- one or two a month. Smashwords recently updated my B&N numbers for November....

And I sold three books within a few days of raising the price! Which is pretty much what happened with the 99 cent price. (And I'd already sold the normal 2 copies at the regular price.)

It will be a while before Smashwords updates the other vendors for that period. I'm eager to see what gives at Apple. In the mean time, Amazon is currently discounting Have Gun, Will Play to an earlier price of 4.95. (Which is higher than I have offered it before, and though sales are slow, it has already made more money than the 99 cent experiment.)

The plan is to leave the full novels all at $6.99 until March, then cut to $4.99. Maybe I'll run a lower sale again at that time, but I'll judge that partly based on how soon I publish more books.

In the meantime, three factors will make it hard to judge the sales:

  • I will be releasing The Man Who Did Too Much, and new releases tend to boost sales. (I also expect to release some other things before the end too, but possibly not soon enough to make a difference.)
  • I will do a short blog tour, end of January, and beginning of February, which should also boost sales.
  • eBooks are on the rise, and there tends to be a boost in sales in January anyway.

Since those three factors all tend to boost sales, I will figure that if I see no boost in sales at all, the price is too dang high. If I see a moderate boost, I'll shrug. If I see a big boost, I'll have to say that a higher price doesn't hurt my sales. (But I will still want to see what happens with the 4.95 price.)

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

ROW80 Update

A Round Of Words In Eighty Days Update

Just under 10 days left. I am pretty frazzled and I want to get to the read through, and last rewrite. I need to let my brain rest a little, so I'm thinking I will probably switch my minutes goals away from blog posts and into reading. (Or a mix.)

Sunday Day 69 - 0 Minutes. Full day, needed time off. (But did get to see Arthur Christmas -- very fun.)

Monday Day 70 - 137 minutes. Wrote three blog posts. One of which I posted that night. Also did some organizing and schedule work off the clock.

Tuesday Day 71 - 41 minutes. Wrote part of a new series on discoverability. But it was partly exploratory writing -- I think I wrote a lot more words, and a lot more repetitive words, than are necessary to my point. And I'm not sure I actually got to my point yet.

Posting Schedule?

Just one more post this week: I'll be posting Thursday an update on my pricing experiments. (Although I might slip in a quick post of interesting links and videos on Friday or Saturday.)

One of my unofficial goals is to start the year with enough posts to cover me over the next dare period (Jan-Mar) for at least two posts a week for this blog (aside from updates) and also a short blog tour. I've got quite a few rough drafts of posts in a folder, but no sense of discipline in figuring out what posts I want to put up now, and what later.

Frankly, I'd LIKE to post some things I haven't written yet and don't feel like writing now.

I'd also like to get back to posting short stories, and by golly, I realize we're getting darn close to Christmas, aren't we? On Monday, I will post one of my favorite little stories -- a seasonal Noir story called "Deadmen Don't Eat Fruitcake."

Movies Seen

This past few days I've mostly been watching things on YouTube.

Death at Broadcasting House (Phoenix 1934). I really don't know if this is actually in the public domain, but I've never seen it on tape or disk, so I don't feel guilty about watching it on YouTube. As with a lot of British films of the period, it's awkward and stagey, and the poor soundtrack makes it hard to hear everything the fast-talking actors say. Also, like so many mysteries of the time (Brit or US) the sets and costumes look so much alike much of the time, it can be hard to follow who is doing what to whom, especially at the beginning.

Still, it's a fun story: in a busy night at an early equivalent of Radio City Music Hall (i.e. Broadcasting House in London), a murder is committed live on the radio during the broadcast of a murder mystery show. This picture is short, and light on story -- much of the time is filled with the real life variety acts going on in other recording studios -- but reasonably fun to watch. (68 minutes.)

Wilful Peggy (Biograph 1910) An early Mary Pickford two-reeler. She had only started in pictures a year before, and had been making dozens of short films (like two a week) for D.W. Griffith. Griffith had a thing about ethereal wilting maidens, and Pickford was always fighting him on that. So he let her play this one the way she wanted, in a story about a spunky young peasant girl who is married off to a old nobleman, and can't get the hang of courtly manners -- but also is pretty darned good at taking care of herself when she gets into trouble.

This two-reeler is in two parts (one 10 minutes and the other 3 minutes) and most of the fun stuff happens toward the end.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, December 12, 2011

How I Learned How To Write

"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."

When I did that post on whether Indie writers need editors or not, I heard from a few newer writers who were concerned about how to learn writing in this new independent age of writing. The old way provided editors and mentors and all that. How on earth do you learn all on your own?

The first thing to remember (as the French epigram says above) is that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The best way to illustrate that is to to tell you a little about how I floundered my way into writing.

When I was little I played pretend. I learned a heck of a lot from this (as I mentioned in one of my posts about Mary Sue) but I didn't try to write it unless it was a school assignment.

When I was in high school, I wrote for fun. I wrote a children's novel in an old diary. I drew pictures of the stories in my head. I wrote a page or two here or there. These were all awful, and mostly unfinished, and even though Heinlein says you must finish what you start, it really was not a bad thing that these were never finished. For many writers, this period is when you write those embarrassing first books you talk to newbies about.

But what I really wanted was to make movies, so I went into the film program at our local college -- where I was taught nothing about storytelling and script writing. We learned the technology, and how to storyboard -- but even format for a dramatic screenplay was outside of what we learned.

And when I hear young writers say "But how can I do this on my own!?" I recall that time. Because I had no one to mentor me.  Plus, I'm a homebody. And not social.

Most of the films I made in film school were animated, because then I could do the whole thing myself. The whole concept of recruiting a cast and crew was well beyond me. So when I realized that I would have to move to Hollywood to learn even whether I was really interested in what I had to do to make movies, I knew that wasn't the right thing for me.

I was a true auteur: an author -- lone and penniless and on my own, but in charge of my own destiny, as long as that destiny could be made up inside my head.

And I still lived in a tiny town in the midwest where nobody was doing what I did, and there wasn't even an internet yet.

But there was a university and there was a library.

So what did I do?

Before I even decided to be a writer, I was reading interviews with my favorite writers. I used the periodical indices and noted down every reference to Donald Westlake in every magazine in the index. Then I looked up all the ones that my local library had. Then I went to the university library and read everything I could find on microfilm. (NOTE: I wasn't just doing this with author names. The truth was, I'd been doing this for years on favorite movie titles and directors as well. I create my own IMDb in my head.)

Once I decided to be a fiction writer, I subscribed to Writer's Digest and The Writer, and I haunted the MSU library and read every back issue too. After a while I realized that what goes around comes around, and if you read a 5-year cycle of a writing magazine you will have read every bit of advice they have to give.

I also checked out books on writing. My family tended to buy me more fun books about fiction-- for readers -- which were at least as useful as any of the writing books. For instance, my sister got me a book called Murder Ink, The Mystery Reader's Companion, which was a series of fun little essays -- some useful, some silly, some commentary -- which gave me a much greater overview of the mystery field than a dozen of those "how to write a mystery" books put out by Writer's Digest.

And, of course, being in an academic family, I did what came naturally: I took writing classes.

You'll hear a lot of pros tell you not to take college writing classes. They'll tell you they're useless, because they give you awful advice about the business of publishing. But let's face it, an indie writer doesn't need to know how to submit manuscripts and negotiate a contract -- and can easily pick up that information from blogs and magazines and books.

But a face-to-face writing class gives you something else: people. People who will respond with extreme prejudice (that's what people are good at). They'll laugh at your jokes, or not get your jokes. They'll obess over nonsense, and give you insight into just how many different ways people can misinterpret your work -- but they'll also show you they "get it" and that you actually nailed it.

They also give you deadlines and criteria to meet. They force you to treat writing as a job.

And best of all, you can (and should) change teachers from semester to semester to be sure you get different points of view. This is different than an ongoing writer's group (online or face-to-face) which doesn't change much.

I was very lucky in one way: Michigan State University was home to the Clarion Workshop for many years, and so, even though I had limited funds and could not have traveled to attend, my family was able to afford my attendance in 1982.

Clarion gave me an intense version of both the best and worst of having a mentor: I had friends for life, and a secret handshake to making more friends among other Clarionites, but I also had a really intense peer pressure group. These were people who really KNEW EVERYTHING, and thus had a disproportionate influence on me -- which is a bad thing, because if you start following a particular school of thought, you stop following your own light. The good thing is that one of the "rules" they taught was to follow your own light.

After Clarion, I pretty much continued taking writing classes once in a while, along with all my other classes in languages and Classical Studies, and anything else that attracted me (I was in college for what, nine years? Oy!) In graduate school, I taught creative writing, and a friend and I formed a writer's group.

But other than Clarion, I don't know that I learned much from the classes themselves. I can't really say that the teachers were mentors. My real mentors were people I'd never met, like Lawrence Block. (Find the collections of his columns which he wrote for Writer's Digest -- there's a writing class for you!)

So I kept reading articles, and browsing writing books. And when the internet came along and I joined the GEnie network, and reconnected with all my Clarion pals and also made a bunch of new friends -- including some great mentors. And when those small proprietary networks disappeared, I moved to the web -- forums, blogs, communities like LiveJournal.

But note: these were colleagues and friends. I met them the same way any indie writer would meet them. 

NONE of my mentors came from the publishing process. Not one.

It went the other way, the connections I made on my own helped me with traditional publishing. The connections I made through the publishing process, well, frankly, I never met an agent who really had a clue about writing -- they know selling. And editors are too busy to be your buddy. Besides, most of them don't know about writing either. They know about presentation and how to spot the end product they want, and how to shape something into that thing they want. (But not necessarily into what anybody else wants.) They know, in other words, about how to be an editor.

And though I don't read the magazines from cover to cover any more, I do read blogs, and now and then I'll still buy a writing book. I don't take classes so much, and workshops don't do me as much good. (The organized face-to-face stuff is less necessary once you have your confidence up and your feet under you.)

The main way I learned, though, was by writing, and by reading the kinds of things I wanted to write.  Exactly what writers can and should do today.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The more something changes, the more it stays the same. Learning to write, finding mentors, just DOING it -- all that is still the same in this new world of publishing.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

ROW80 Sunday Update - And the Blurb!

One of the things I worked on tonight was the blurb.

The premise of this book is in the quirky, unexpected characters. It's really hard to blurb that, since quirks work much better in the small details and context. So I've been fighting and wrestling and shoving and pushing at this for a while, but I think I finally have it.

I beg of anyone to give me feedback on anything unclear or ineffective. (You don't have to proof it. I will definitely be cleaning up the prose -- although I welcome any comments you might want to give.)

The Man Who Did Too Much, comic mystery suspense.

Logline Version:

In a small Michigan beach town, an eccentric movie buff and a compulsive secret agent join forces to solve a case of kidnapping and murder.

Long Blurb:

George Starling quit his job as a secret agent to take care of a traumatized woman he rescued. He has brought her home to her small Michigan town, where he spends his days taking care of her, bored but patient, waiting for her to be well enough to know whether she loves him or not.

When an old friend asks him to investigate a local lead in an international kidnapping, George reluctantly agrees to interview a witness.

That witness is Karla Marquette, a flaky local movie buff who seems to have little touch with reality. But George knows the instant he meets her that Karla has a genius for happiness. If he can only help Karla clear her friends of suspicion in this kidnapping and murder, perhaps she can help he and his girlfriend find the happiness that eludes them.

But the case is deeper than it seems, and soon George finds himself, and even his girlfriend, entangled in a deceptive plot. Can he shake loose, or will it be up to Karla to rescue them all?

The Man Who Did Too Much is a 95,000 word novel which combines classic mystery elements with comic suspense. Available in paperback, or in ebook format at Amazon and other major ebook retailers. In multiple formats at Smashwords.


Camille LaGuire is a Michigan writer of mystery and adventure stories. She has published fiction in magazines ranging from Cricket Magazine to Handheld Crime, to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine. Her work has been reprinted in educational materials and overseas, and her short fiction has been nominated for Derringer awards.

This book is not really about her, although she can be pretty flaky and out of touch when she wants to be.

Now on to the ROW80 update for the second half of this week:

Thursday Day 66 - 164 minutes. Wrote the Artisan Writer post, and also a couple of quick outline drafts for quite a few other posts.

Friday Day 67 - 0 minutes. Long exhausting day at work. Watched some videos, relaxed.

Saturday Day 68 - 200 minutes. A couple of good long craft posts -- but not for this week. One is partly about an indie friend who had a relevant experience with an agent, and I want to run it by her. The other just needs a little polish.

I spent most of my energy writing the blurb tonight, and my mind is in no shape to decide what I'm going to post later in the week. I just know there will be two posts other than updates this week (probably on Tuesday and Thursday.)

Classic Movies Watched

The Bridge On The River Kwai, Columbia 1957. This really is a classic, a great film of irony and characterization. Often quite tense, but not the grueling POW flick you might expect. I want to write up a post on the opening sequence. It's a wonderful set up for everything that comes after. It's not a "feel good" movie, but there is still a lot of joy in it.

Smart Money, WB 1931. A light gangster flick with Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney -- made before they broke into stardom with Little Caesar and The Public Enemy. The script is simply not up to their talent, but it's fun watching the star quality shine forth even with such dull material.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What Does Artisan Mean To You?

When I wrote that post a couple of weeks ago on do-it-yourself publishing, and the Arts and Crafts movement, I got a big response of people saying, "Yeah! That!" People especially responded to the word "artisan."

But we've only just started thinking about it, so we don't really have a definition to the term "artisan writer." It's not interesting if it's just a cooler catch phrase. It's got to mean something.

This post is an opening salvo in what I hope will be a wider discussion. I'm going to give you my thoughts on this, and I hope those of you who are reading will think about it and write up your own ideas. You can put short ideas in the comments, but what I'd really love is if you posted something on your own blog, and put a link in the comments -- or maybe I'll use one of those "linky" widgets so that we can all interlink.

The key is that we don't have to all agree. It's good to start with what it all means to us personally, and then find what we have in common.

What "Artisan Writer" Means To Me

When we talk about artisan goods, we generally mean small, hand-made, non-manufactured goods. Microbreweries. My sister's small-batch hand-made jam, or Zingerman's amazing bread. It's applied to food products a lot, but also to hand-crafted toys or baskets or furniture.

And it differs from Fine Art in that these are practical and personal items -- for consuming, for using, for our entertainment and delight, but not for a museum. At the same time, it differs from amateur crafts in that it is done as a profession, and not just for fun.

So for me the term artisan evokes the place where art/passion meets entrepreneurial spirit.

And for writing and especially ebooks, it's more an attitude or philosophy than a practice.

Because, let's face it, ebooks are not -- and cannot be -- hand made. They aren't a physical object, so they aren't even made at all. And yet there can be as much difference between one ebook and another as there is between my sister's jam, and Smuckers.

So with that in mind, I have three major thoughts on what it is to be an artisan writer:

1.) Responsibility, Ownership and Control

It would be easy to say simply that self-publishing is automatically artisanal. And maybe in some ways, it is.

But self-publishing isn't a philosophy, it's a method, and nothing more. A self-publisher may see it as a path to commercial publishing. Or a self-publisher may be looking to become a commercial publisher, producing products indistinguishable from the commercial products of major publishers. Many authors these days are only self-publishing because traditional publishing is so messed up. If traditional publishing were well run, or offered them a better deal, that's what they would prefer to be doing.

In other words, those authors are happy giving up control of the final product -- who would leap at the offer of a book contract -- even if they are smart business people who go into the deal with eyes wide open and a lawyer at their side.

But there are also a lot of us with a different attitude and different goals. And some who have a foot in each camp -- they may not mind giving up control on some things, while they guard it closely on others.

Artisan Publishing is that part of us which doesn't want our work put through a "system," period. We may not do all of the work ourselves, but if we have an editor or cover artist or formatter; that person works for us.

Furthermore, because we're not interested in the system, we make no accommodation in our work to suit that system. While we might do all sorts of things to perfect a work for its own sake and for that of the audience, we don't worry about smoothing off edges which will trip a manuscript up in the traditional submission system.

I am reminded of a story:

Once a violinist complained to Beethoven that one of his works was impossible to play, that a violin couldn't do what he demanded of it. Beethoven replied "I wasn't thinking about your puny violin when I wrote it."

When an artisan writes a story, he or she doesn't think at all about that daunting gauntlet a book has to run in the traditional publishing world -- which gets weirder and more elongated with every passing day. A system which is designed mainly around making it easy on the system.

2.) Artisan Writing Is Personal

Much as I love pulp fiction -- and much as I think a pulp fiction style can be artisanal -- artisan writing is not anonymous, or interchangeable the way pulp fiction was originally supposed to be. It's not about writing to meet someone else's specs, or about blending in with a genre. Those are excellent ways to learn your skills, and should be part of the personal development of an artisan.

But one of the key elements of artisan work is the person who does the work -- the Artisan. An artisan is focused on defining and building his or her own brand or brands.

The point of being an artisan is being unique and individual. That doesn't mean an artisan is off in the clouds making incomprehensible art -- no, that's fine art -- an artisan makes ordinary, accessible things -- low brow things -- into something personal and unique.

3.) Craftsmanship

An artisan is deeply interested in craftsmanship -- even though the definition of what is great craftsmanship will vary from story to story.

In the Arts and Crafts movement, and particularly with the Pre-Raphaelite movement that preceded it, they rejected the slick, overly-sophisticated and intellectualized standards of what passed for fine art at the time. They felt that the Mannerists ruined art, warped it into something that was unnatural and elitist.

In my opinion, the writing culture has been warped similarly by the submission process.

It isn't the publishing industry itself so much as the writers striving for publication, and the agents who have lately taken the lead in "guiding" writers in the secrets of publishing. Because of the level of competition, the writing culture has become focused on tiny, trivial things they once saw as giving them an "edge" over the competition. These things, which are really just a matter of presentation, and often not even appropriate presentation (like gilding a lily), have become magnified. Suddenly such trivia is considered critical.

But in reality, they are just proofs that the writer is sophisticated in the current fashions of writing and publishing. They're polish, not craft.

An artisan is not worried about proving sophistication. Rather, the artisan is a geek who is fascinated by storytelling and words and how they affect the reader. The artisan is not interested in using the coolest tool but rather the right tool to get the affect he or she wants. An artisan is not afraid of making mistakes, because the results of mistakes are interesting.

Other things:

There are, of course, other elements which are common in artisanal craftsmanship. There is usually, but not always, a respect for tradition. (Artisans often want to revive some practice which is lost or out of style, for instance.) The work is often tied up in a political or social philosophy (hippie ice cream makers, and bread baked by monks, for instance). Artisans may eschew marketing altogether, and let word of mouth build the business slowly... but some may consider marketing to be a part of that personal branding, a gift of art in and of itself.

And, of course, there are even people out there who are taking artisan philosophy and using it to drive a more modern manufacturing style of production.

So I throw this open to you. Comment about it, blog about it, talk about it. Does the idea of an Artisan Writer movement appeal to you? What does it bring to mind? What elements mean something to you?

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

ROW80 - Goals for the Rest of the Round

My goal for ROW80 was to spend 6500 minutes and get several things done. So here I am 62 days in, and I've exceeded the goal in minutes, but only got one thing done.

I still have about two weeks left, but I don't see myself finishing those other projects, so I'm postponing them to the next ROW80 challenge in January.

So here are some thoughts for what I want to do with the next two weeks:

Recent Posts About Writing Speed

Passive Guy and Dean Wesley Smith recently talked about writing speed issues, both in response to posts by other writers who had recently boosted their productivity, and had neat analyses about how they'd done it.

I found these posts to be energizing, even though in the the first case the person had sent her writing into hyperdrive by doing pretty much what I already do.

But she did it in a more conscious way which took better advantage of the methods. I'm thinking, since it already fits my habits, it may do me some good to be more systematic about them. This is one of the reasons why I'm not setting a fiction writing goal for the rest of this ROW80 -- Instead I'm going to use the time to look closely at those posts and my own habits, and shift gears for the next dare. I'll write a blog post about that later.

Blog Posts and Blurbs

I've said "I'll write a blog post about that later" quite a bit lately.

And I'd like to do a blog tour in late January, AND I need to write better blurbs and catalog copy for Man Who. So it seems to me that the best thing I can do is to catch up on all those promises, and then get ahead with more article writing. I can put my whole brain into it for a while, and write in a frenzy.

For that reason, blog posts and articles will be what counts for the rest of the dare. Furthermore, because I write blog posts anyway, I'm going to raise the goal. An average of two hours a day, instead of 90 minutes. I think I can beat that, really, but I have a third thing I want to spend time on:

Reading (and Viewing)

If nothing else, I need to read my own stuff. I want to get The Man Who Did Too Much published this month. Possibly by Christmas, but certainly by New Year's Eve. And as a part of my prep for the next dare, I want to do some concentrated reading and note taking on Devil In A Blue Bustle, the next Mick and Casey.

But I also have a HUGE piles of books to be read. Since the advent of Kindle, I've been reading more steadily again, but I have too many books I'm eager to get to.

I also have to get back in the swing of the movies -- particular classics. I gotta keep ahead of Karla -- whose schtick is insight into human behavior via movie metaphors. While I didn't write The Man Who Did Too Much with specific movies in mind (I just let her come up with parallels as the situation arises) I don't think it would hurt to load my brain with movie motifs for the plotting of the next one. AND, though I certainly once knew as much as Karla does about old movies, I have forgotten more than it's likely the rest of you will ever know. (I grew up in the days before IMDb and home video, and being a movie buff in those days required that ones brain become a complete database of it's own.)

To that end, I'm trying to watch several classics a week. Starting tonight with Bridge On The River Kwai. Might watch The Dawn Patrol too. Lots of lurking under the surface on human nature in war movies. Anyway, I think I'll set that goal to five a week.

Goals in Summary

Starting Thursday:

  • 1800 minutes of blog posts, blurbs and other non-fiction writing.
  • Three classic movies a week
  • More reading
  • Prep and plotting for the next dare

For the remainder of the month, I will keep posting the updates on Sunday and Wednesday, and will post 2-3 other posts a week.

On Thursday I will write about "What Is An Artisan Writer?" and invite you to think about what it means to you as well.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

ROW80 Update and Why This Book Took So Long

I'm not going to do a daily break-down of what I did on the Round Of Words in 80 Days dare since the last update on Wednesday. I'll just give you the total:

From Wednesday through Saturday: 1163 minutes, or almost 20 hours.

But the book is done. I will be making some character and clue-consistency passes later on, but just now my brain's word muscle is sprained. And even after sleeping much of the day, the words for this post are coming with a lot more difficulty than they ought to.


As you may see from the sidebar, I exceeded my goals for ROW80. Fear not, I will be continuing the dare until it's over on December 22. Though I'll start that tomorrow, I won't post the new goals until Wednesday.

Why This Book Took So Freaking Long

1.) It took so long because it took so long.

I started the book in 2003, let it stall, and then took it up in earnest two years ago. It looked like a piece of cake then, and it has continued to look like a piece of cake since. But memories and old ideas have a way of changing and running out on you -- so the slower you go, the more problems you have. I will talk about this later in a post of it's own, though, because writing over a long period of time also gives you some advantages.

But mostly, in future, I'm going to use shelf-time for good, not for evil.

2.) Real Life Kerfuffle Caused Me To Take My Eye Off The Ball.

My dad died, and I discovered Indie Publishing. These two things together yanked aobut a year out of the process. There were other issues too, but they were smaller.

In future? "Life Rolls" will get you no matter what. So the lesson here is only be mindful that fate is going to get you sometimes. So even though I might try to avoid Item #1, I may have to deal with it again.

3.) I'm moving to a new level.

I can't say that I learned specific new skills for this book, but I never put them together like this before. You could even say that this is the first time I have trotted out some of the skills I've been acquiring and really put them through their paces.

I was juggling all the usual plot and character stuff with advanced Hitchcock suspense theory, and multi-layered clue/red herring usage and screenplay arc structures, all the while working out the voice and attitude of a series I hope to live with and play in for a long time. (I've done a lot of this with Mick and Casey, but it's much simpler there because I have one narrator with his own voice and style, and he smooths it all out.)

Juggling all this is hard and takes practice and the result is not likely to be the best story in this series. (But that's a good thing, because it would suck if the later books didn't live up to the promise of the first.)

And a lot of that work will not be noticed by the audience.

But it will affect the audience, and that's where a certain pride in your craftsmanship comes in.

4.) The Story Demanded It

The mystery genre has a particular problem that no other genre has: The audience is not just along for the ride. They are actively engaged in reading subtext. And the subtext of the subtext. They're like poker players and they know your "tell." When I was a kid, I could pick murderers off of book jackets. (Charming, likeable character, who couldn't possibly have done it? Yes, that's him officer.)

At the same time, the mainstream audience likes mysteries, even if they are mystified until the end. But they don't like feeling dumb. Levinson and Link (creators of Columbo, and Mannix, and Murder She Wrote) learned this lesson the hard way. When they created the Ellery Queen TV Show, they worked very hard to make it live up to the books in terms of being fair but mystifying puzzles -- and that wonderful series was canceled after one year. So when they created Murder, She Wrote, they intentionally made it easy. And that lasted twelve years.

I was one who was very disappointed at the loss of EQ, and only moderately interested in Murder She Wrote. But I question whether this is an "either or" situation in terms of pleasing the audience. It seems to me that the masters of classic mystery have always laid in multiple layers to please various levels of audience. And every mystery writer has to write a story that is still enjoyable to those who picked the killer off the book jacket. (And also enjoyable to those who didn't see it coming at all.)

And those kinds of choices are a part of this Artisan Writer thing: It's not always that complicated, but you are always crafting a reader experience.

No, maybe the Artisan thing is even more visceral than that. It's that you care about how things work.

I will be talking a lot more about clues and red herrings and writing for different levels of audience soon. But I will not post anything until Wednesday, when I post my next update and ROW80 goals.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Done done done done done.

Okay, I actually got all the way through to THE END this time. The big hold up today was that I realized that the "Detectives sit around and tie up all the loose ends" scene was now so far out of whack with the rest of the book, it was better to just toss it all out, and write it anew.

I'll need to do some character and texture passes, but that can happen with proofing. For now I am done done done.

And since the opera ain't over 'til the Miss Piggy sings ... and here she is!

I'll post my deconstruction of the process that took so long tomorrow morning with the ROW80 dare update post.

See you in the funny papers!

Half-Past Five and Not Done Yet.

Gotta sleep now. Darn it. Not done, although I did some good work. And I am SOOOOO close. Two chapters yet to go over. Yes, they are tricky.

And yikes, I just looked down to see I put in seven and a half hours on this this evening -- on a work day.

That's 447 frickin minutes to put me within only a couple minutes of my final goal.

See you tomorrow.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Nuts! I'm not done.

I have approximately 5 scenes left which require a functioning brain to sort out. Maybe 6, since one of the scenes is more of a sequence.

The worst thing about this kind of writing is that it disrupts sleep: I stay up late until I'm really tired and expect to sleep well, only to find my excited brain is worst than my cat about getting me up early.

So even though I got nearly six hours in today, I was drooling on myself. And that's probably why I didn't get further. And I've got to get up early tomorrow for work. pfftttttp!

So... the completion is postponed until tomorrow night. The blog post with the debriefing about the writing of it gets postponed until late Saturday. Heck, I may just make it the Sunday ROW80 update. We'll see.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Absolutely Right, Except When Wrong

Dean Wesley Smith has got me thinking again (blast him).

For those of you who are writers and haven't read his blog, I recommend that you read it religiously (and be sure to read all the comments too - lots of great discussion there). Dean's blog is critical, especially if you want to make a living in this business.

Dean is a guy who not only makes a very good living at writing, but has done so in times when supposedly midlist writers like him couldn't make a living at all. His schtick is that the only reason writers can't make a living is because they cling to myths that hold them back.

And though I never advise anyone to follow a guru blindly, if you really wanted to follow someone blindly -- adhering to the advice to the letter -- Dean would be the man to follow.

Because Dean is always absolutely right about everything... except when he's wrong.

(And he'd be the first to tell you that. He'll be in the middle of a rant about how you absolutely must not do something and he'll put in an aside "unless it works for you; don't mess with what works.")

I bring this up because every now and then I'll say something in the comments on his blog which freaks him out. I'm not a great person for staying on message, even when I fully agree with you, and Dean is trying so hard to free writers from silly notions which hamper their ability to succeed.

It sometimes makes me feel like a bad influence when I write about what I'm doing. Like I'm passing out joints to the kids on the schoolyard.

So here's the thing: I'm in a very different place than most writers are. I'm doing things which may seem to be the polar opposite of what he advises (more on that when I get to tomorrow's debriefing on the writing of this book) -- but I'm not doing it because I believe in any of those old myths which he hates so vociferously.

I'm doing it because I've been around a long time, I've learned a whole heck of a lot of different practices and methods... and the only thing that dictates what I do now is the story itself. And that, for me, is a part of what it is to be an artisan writer -- like a carpenter listening to the wood.

But I got to this point, where I can listen to the story and what it wants, by doing what Dean tells you to do. (And okay, if I say one thing and Dean says another and you don't know who to believe, just remember that Dean got rich and successful from his writing, and I haven't. And I probably never will.)

But I also think Dean takes a rather narrow view, and it doesn't hurt you kids (or old folks) to experiment, especially in the area where Dean and I differ the most:

Dean believes that your Internal Editor is the enemy, and should be locked in the closet.

I believe that your Internal Editor is an annoying but incredibly useful control freak who needs to be kept on a leash, but always on call.

You won't get anywhere if your Creative Side isn't in control. But there are places you will never get to if you don't bring the Internal Editor along for the ride. And the book I just wrote is one of them.

And we'll talk a little about that tomorrow. Maybe late tomorrow, because my Internal Editor and I will be finishing up the book, and wrestling him is time-consuming -- and I may not actually sit down to write that post until Friday night.

See you in the funny papers.